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UKRAINE

‘I fear my family will be killed’: Ukrainians across Europe react to Russia’s invasion

As the news travelled around the world on Thursday that Russia had invaded Ukraine, many Ukrainians in Europe have told The Local of their fears for their family and country, as well as their frustration at not being able to help.

Brandenburger Tor Ukrainian Flag
Ukrainian citizens in Europe express their fears about the war in Ukraine. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

In the early hours of Thursday morning Russia invaded Ukraine after weeks of high tension with western leaders and years of military action in the east of the country.

As the announcements filtered through news outlets, Ukrainians living in countries across Europe woke up to a reality they had long been dreading.

In a survey of The Local’s Ukrainian readers, the most common feeling expressed was the utter shock that their country had been invaded, followed by deep and real fears that they may never see their friends and family again.

Others spoke about the impact on their identity as a Ukrainian, the frustration of not being able to help and fears of not being able to go back home.

‘It makes me feel unsafe and worried’

“I have nowhere to go back to,” said Karina Karnaukh, 32 year-old Senior Business Development Manager living in Stockholm but originally from Dnipro. “I’ll most likely lose my job and thus will have to ask for refugee status in EU.

“This is a tragedy happening in the middle of Europe.

“I fear for the lives of my parents and my little sisters. What can happen? No one knows.” 

Dmytro, a 35-year-old Software Engineer living in Copenhagen but originally from the city of Kharkiv, said: “I have family members and friends living in Kharkiv and other Ukrainian cities. They have been okay so far, but I am worried about their well-being. I am in a safe and privileged position compared to them, but I can do very little to help.”

Another Copenhagen-based Ukrainian resident named Andrii, originally from Transcarpathia in Western Ukraine said: “My parents are there, my brother is in Kyiv, my friends and other family members are there. I feel continuous stress and helplessness. I won’t be able to go back if Russia occupies beloved Ukraine.”

A 37-year-old Software Engineer in Berlin expressed fears for their family, including a disabled father, and said: “I need to figure out how I can help them to flee the country.”

Another anonymous respondent said: “I just hope my sister and mother can join me in Sweden”.

Irena, 24, who works as a kindergarten teacher in Aarhus, Denmark, but is originally from the Odessa region said she “cannot stop crying” and added her biggest fear is that her family will be killed.

Viktoria, an IT Consultant in Munich, Germany, said: “It makes me feel unsafe and worried because a lot of my friends and relatives live in Kyiv. I feel like I have gone back in time and now it is June 1941. It is a horrible and surreal feeling.”

The mention of June 1941 refers to the day when Germany attacked Ukraine as World War II raged. Later that year, the country was divided between two German administrative units.

Viktoria, from Kyiv added: “My fear is if the US and the EU don’t help and block the Russian aggression, the EU will also become an unstable place where there is no democracy but only military power rules the world.” 

The Ukrainian diaspora in Europe

According to Reuters, there are 260,000 Ukrainians living in the Czech Republic, and tens of thousands in both Slovakia, Poland and Hungary. It is estimated there are around 40,000 Ukrainian nationals in France whilst Germany and Spain are home to over 100,000 Ukrainian nationals. Italy numbers over 240,000. Sweden (estimated 12,800), Austria (12,600) Switzerland (6,500) Denmark (8,000) and Norway (7,200) are also home to thousands of Ukrainians.

Andre, 37, a Software Engineer who lives in Mannheim, Germany, but is originally from the Ukrainian city of Cherkasy said: “The impact is mostly psychological. We don’t have any close relatives in Ukraine, but we planned to go home as usual near Easter. I need to work, but it’s extremely complicated now since I keep scrolling the news feed.”

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Italy could be impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Most readers told The Local they are receiving support from friends and colleagues in their country of residence. However, many expressed dismay at the level of support on an international level and from regional authorities.

When asked about his biggest fear, an investment analyst from Zurich who asked not to be named, said: “Ukraine will be bombed and cultural heritage will be destroyed. People will be killed. I worry for my immediate family living there now.”

Julia, 32, a Quality Assurance Engineer in Stockholm, said her biggest fear is: “Occupation of Ukraine with other countries only sending their thoughts and prayers or just raising their concerns.”

Julia also expressed her disbelief that her country was at war with Russia and added that her employer has offered her additional days off from work.

Olha, a 38-year-old IT specialist in Stockholm, said about the war: “It will impact the lives of all European people, not only Ukrainians.”

Member comments

  1. Lighting up Brandenburg Gate is about as helpful as soccer players taking the knee. Germany should worry less about lights and more about implementing actual meaningful sanctions. Of course that would mean hard times for Europe because they get oil from Russia, but it would be a sanction that might actually have an effect on Putin. Sadly we live in an age where virtue signaling, which doesn’t really cost anybody anything, has replaced actual sacrifice in the interest of what is good and right.

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UKRAINE

Russia expels dozens of Spanish and other European diplomats

Moscow on Wednesday kicked out 27 diplomats from Spain, as well as dozens more from France and Italy in retaliation for the expulsion of Russian diplomats from European countries as part of a joint action against Russia's campaign in Ukraine.

Russia expels dozens of Spanish and other European diplomats

Spain has lashed out at Russia for expelling 27 Spanish diplomats in what appeared to be a tit-for-tat response over a similar move by Madrid against Russian diplomats over the Ukraine conflict.

The employees of the Spanish embassy in Moscow and the Spanish Consulate General in Saint Petersburg “have been declared persona non grata” and will have seven days to leave Russia.

 “Russian authorities justify this decision on grounds of reciprocity for the expulsion of 27 Russian embassy officials in April. But that expulsion was based on justified security reasons, which are not present in this case,” a foreign ministry statement said.

The Spanish decision was taken in early April just days after dozens of bodies in civilian clothing were found on the streets of Bucha just outside Kyiv following the withdrawal of Russian troops, raising allegations of Russian war crimes.

At the time, the foreign ministry said it would expel the Russian diplomats on grounds they were “a threat to (Spain’s) interests and security”.

The Russian ambassador was not among those asked to leave.

The ministry told Spanish ambassador Marcos Gómez Martínez that the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Madrid “would have a negative impact on Russian-Spanish relations”.

Spain’s decision was part of a coordinated move across Europe that saw more than 200 Russian envoys sent home in 48 hours on grounds of alleged spying or “national security reasons” as outrage grew over the atrocities in Ukraine.

More European diplomats expelled

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement it was expelling 34 “employees of French diplomatic missions” in Russia and gave them two weeks to leave the country.

Moscow made the announcement after summoning France’s ambassador to Russia, Pierre Levy, and telling him that the expulsion of 41 employees of Russian diplomatic missions was a “provocative and unfounded decision”, the statement said.

While there was no official statement, the foreign ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed to Russian news agencies that 24 Italian diplomats had also been expelled.

The foreign ministry in Paris said France “strongly condemns” the expulsion of its diplomats by Russia, adding that this step from Moscow had “no legitimate basis”.

It said the work of French diplomats in Russia “takes place fully within the framework of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic and consular relations” — whereas Paris expelled Russian staff in April on suspicion of being spies.

‘Hostile act’

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi condemned the expulsions as a “hostile act” but said diplomatic channels must remain open “because it’s through those channels that, if possible, peace (in Ukraine) will be achieved”.

Separately, municipal lawmakers in Moscow on Wednesday backed a decision to name a previously unnamed area in front of the US embassy in Moscow “Donbas Defenders Square”.

The name refers to a majority Russian-speaking region in eastern Ukraine that Russia says it is liberating as part of its military campaign.

In February 2018, a street outside the Russian embassy in Washington was named after Boris Nemtsov, an opposition politician who was shot dead outside the Kremlin in 2015.

President Vladimir Putin in late February sent troops into Ukraine, saying the campaign aimed to stop the “genocide” of Russian speakers in the pro-Western country.

In response Moscow has faced a barrage of international sanctions and growing isolation from the global community as relations with the West deteriorate to Cold War levels.

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